English as a Second Language (ESL) students typically score lower than their peers on class assignments and standardized tests. International students who enter the US school system have a difficult time transitioning to learning in what is their second, third, or fourth language.
Struggling with English in the classroom does not make these students unintelligent. Instead, they face the challenge of applying their logical knowledge and academic thinking skills in an unfamiliar language—English.
Many international students entering American schools already have a very basic foundation in English. They learn enough to navigate key social and survival situations.
Why do they have a hard time in the American classroom?
ESL students simply do not have the English language skills to complete homework, projects, or exams sufficiently. While they can interact with other English-speakers in simple conversations, they do not understand the language in the classroom context. Everyday English is applied very differently than academic English.
Therefore, ESL students must develop vocabulary, reading comprehension, writing, and critical thinking skills to gain the confidence they need to achieve in school. Solid reading and vocabulary also form the basis for future success on the SAT and ACT.
Rather than focus on English in general, ESL students who wish to see steady improvement in the classroom must learn English commonly used in the classroom. They must match their logical abilities, which have been developed in school in their home countries, with their English speaking, reading, and writing abilities.
It is especially important for these students to fully immerse themselves in English and “break” their dependence on their first language. Immersion enhances their structural understanding of English, which in turn improves class performance.
Many ESL programs offered in US schools continue with the general teaching of English, but leave a lot to be desired in terms of language use directly applicable in the classroom.
What are some key ways to help ESL students boost their performance in school?
- Target Your Vocabulary: Identify words and language commonly used in various school subjects. Define these words and learn how to use them in context.
- Read, Read, Read!: Read Lexile-level appropriate texts to gradually improve reading comprehension and inference skills.
- Get Structured: Learn the basic 5-paragraph essay structure used in most American classrooms. Identify each component (Introduction, Body, Conclusion) and its purpose before attempting to write your own.